By John Faherty
Teresa Tanner’s first cause found her on a summer day in 1994. She was home with her toddler daughter Kayla and her 13-day-old son. Kayla was tired that day, which seemed a little unusual, and then Tanner noticed a fever and bruising.
An immediate doctor’s appointment led to a dire diagnosis: Kayla had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Doctors assured Teresa and her husband Tim that their daughter had a 70 percent chance of survival. Seventy percent odds are great for a bet on a football game; they are terrible odds when you are talking about your daughter.
Even then, however, doctors told Tanner the chances were as good as they were because of the research and advocacy of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Kayla was fortunate. She survived, thrived, and today she is 25 years old and healthy.
And Tanner was instantly devoted to helping. “That whole experience humbled me and gave me insight. I needed to help,” Tanner said. “I think everybody needs to ask themselves some hard questions. Are you lucky enough to be able to help? Can you make a mark? Can you make your community better?”
Tanner went on to help raise money for more research and more advocacy. Today, according to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 98 percent of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia go into remission within weeks after starting treatment and 90 percent of those children can be cured.
Tanner is executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Fifth Third Bank. She has been involved in more charities than it would be reasonable to list. What is more striking than the number of organizations Tanner helps, however, is the range of these agencies.
Urban League Work Readiness, Freestore Foodbank, Ronald McDonald House, Women’s Leadership Council, United Way Tocqueville Society… the list goes on.
For Tanner, one cause can lead to another. And all of it leads to “joy” which she acknowledges is her favorite word.
Tanner did not need to use the Ronald McDonald House when her daughter was ill, but she saw people who did. She knew the good it could do for families. Today, she is the board chair of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Greater Cincinnati.
“Her heart is so good, she just cares about people and always wants to do the right thing,” said Jennifer Goodin, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House. “One of the first things the staff at the Ronald McDonald House noticed was how warm and compassionate Teresa is. This wasn’t an executive who needed to serve on a board or who networked to get ahead. This was a true passion.”
Cancer and sick children, of course, come naturally to Tanner. But sometimes she looks for a cause. When she realized how much the arts can create community, she got involved with ArtsWave and now is the incoming board chair. ArtsWave President and CEO Alecia Kintner is already looking forward to working with her.
“She handles everything and everyone with grace and ease and respect,” Kintner said. “Part of Teresa’s magic is her openness. Her ability to see a need as an opportunity and say: ‘How can I help?’”
Tanner is frequently committed to organizations that help women. “I definitely have a passion for giving women all the tools they need so they can create the life they want to live. I don’t want choices to be taken from women.”
After decades of helping others, Tanner knows that in fact she has benefited greatly. She is more purposeful and has a better perspective on the whole spectrum of Cincinnati. She is also always “delighted” to see how kind and decent people are every day. “It never ceases to amaze me, the goodness of people. People surprise and amaze me.”
Tanner is still involved in blood cancers. She is currently working on the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk. It is a chance to help more people and perhaps it will lead to her next passion.
Light the Night
Cincinnati’s Light the Night Walk starts at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 19 at Yeatman’s Cove. Proceeds benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Cincinnati walk is one of 200 held in communities across the country.
Participants may join an existing team, form a team of their own, or walk as an individual.